Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

1st Chapter : GET IT RIGHT

Hello again from your friendly neighborhood intern. So, you've written a book. That's awesome! That's great! Was anyone around when you wrote that last line? 





I remember my first novel, REDWOOD BLOOD, and my final word. I typed it in. I sat there staring at it, with a huge smile on my face. No one was home. I was there in my office all alone, and so I screamed! I jumped up and down and yelled, "I'm done! I did it! Does anyone care?" Nope. No one did.






And so, I will care about yours. Congrats! You did it! You got your novel written....NOW WHAT?








Your first chapter is what! Yep, go back to the beginning, right now if you can, while your main character's strongest voice is still in your head.






Re-write your first chapter. And I don't mean change a few lines. I mean give it new breath. Get that strong voice in there. Let the reader know who your character is right now.







The first chapter is BIG when trying to hook an agent, and even BIGGER when trying to grab readers. It better be awesome! It better rock! 







No ones first chapter rocks until they write the last chapter and then go back and revise. So, newbie writers who query without revising....huge mistake! HUGE. 






If you do nothing else to that manuscript, you must revise the first chapter. The first 50 pages, actually, but lets start at the beginning.









Below you will find my first, first chapter of FLESH & BONE. And then my second, first chapter, after knowing my character better. 


Which one gives you, the reader, a better understanding of my main character, Payton? Which one has a stronger voice? Which one makes you want to read more? 
















1st First Chapter:

1 Monstered

I already had leopard spots on my neck and two peacock feathers growing from behind my ears. Even though the bright plumes brought out the blue and green of my eyes, and the spots, the dark reddish undertone of my dark hair, that was enough animalia for me. I liked my human body. I was one of the last in my whole town. I still had most of my flesh and bones. 

My friends didn't get it. I mean if you could run like a cheetah or fly like an eagle, why wouldn't you. The only ones who didn't were the poor. I’m sure some of them thought I couldn't afford the upgrades. If they only knew what I just turned down, they’d die.

My parents had bought me my own plastic surgeon for my seventeenth. Sweet, huh? My very own doctor with scalpel, to cut into my flesh, beast me up before I can even vote. He was from Sibyl, the birthplace of animalia transplantia. He came with every animal part you could imagine, and some new ones he'd been creating. Outsiders would say he was playing God. But God was outdone around here a long time ago.

Anyway, I had my pick from gazelle legs, panther eyes, bat wings, snake skin, and his favorite mix, lion mane and owl feathers. It looked like a warm fur coat, but once attached to your skin the feathers and mane would intertwine creating a whole new animal skin. It was beautiful, but I said no. Mom was furious with me. 

"You look so common," she pleaded. "Why won't you let us do this for you?"

Dad's monkey tail grabbed the coffee and poured, while he shook his head in disappointment. His eyes looked deep set, tired, and red, but not all of that was caused by me. "You can't expect the top Institutions to accept you as is," he said.

You had to look so close to see any of my parent’s former human bodies. My mom had long ago replaced her eyes with hawk's. She could see everything, and never missed a move. Her hair was mostly feathers from peacock. I stroked mine, that's where they had come from, so long ago. Her skin was reptilian, bright greens and blues too. The only parts on her body that weren’t animalia yet were her ears. And she'd ordered those special. 

She wanted elephant hearing, but small and cute, and blue. They would take a few years to mold, test, and implant. Until then, she covered her human ears with her feathers. But she made sure everyone knew she had placed an order.

An order was a big deal. It meant you had silver. You had money to play with, to enjoy, to mold yourself into the monster of your choosing. But, I didn't fit into their mold. I wouldn’t be monstered. If she knew I even thought that word, I’d be grounded for a year. The rebels coined it. I thought it fit. Everyone who animaled looked like monsters to me. But I was the one who stood out like a sore, fleshy thumb here. And, it killed them that I didn't care.

Dad sipped his coffee in the way that says he's waiting for me to speak. And what could I say? That you monstered me when I was a baby. I had no choice. That I think it's sick what you're doing. Do you even know what they do to the animals to get your fun new parts? That I’d rather be poor and look normal. That I'd pay a doctor to remove my animalia, as if one ever would. No, that was saved for the worst of the worst, the criminals against the surgeries. I didn't care about his stupid institutions. I couldn't say that either. But, the biggest secret of all, I wanted to join the movement. I could never say that. 

His tail flicked, continuously plucking fuzz from his jacket, combing his hair, and fixing his collar while he stared into his dark coffee mug. His hands were gorilla, big and thick, able to open any jar or rip through a tree if need be. Overkill if you ask me, but that's what most men did. They made themselves bigger, bulkier, and furrier, and spikier. 

I checked his feet, of course he had socks and shoes on. He never went barefoot because that was his last human part, the last place he had flesh. He too put in an order. He chose hoof, but not just any horse would do. He wanted it mixed with metal. That was the newest thing, to mix animal with some sort of gold or silver. And, from what I hear, it was the most painful to the animal. At least it was just as painful for the human. They injected the transplantable part with metal, which slowly killed the horse. Dad ordered hoof with platinum. It would make him taller, and unstoppable if he ever needed to break down a castle or two. Which, he never would. Say it with me, overkill. 

"If that's all they care about, how much animal I have stitched onto me, I’d pass on them before they’d even growl," I finally said.

Dad frowned. 

"Seriously, if I can't get into an institution with the highest scores, it’s a stupid institution." I sat at the table, waiting for my breakfast to be made and brought to me, with the morning social news.

Mom plucked a feather. She did that when she was agitated. 

"What?" I said. 

She flicked the blue and green feather onto the floor. I guess she figured the servant would get that after he made my eggs and toast. I rose to get it, when Dad's tail shoved me back into my seat. 

"That's fair," I said. 

"We will have this talk," he said. 

"Why can't I stay this way? I like it." I scratched behind my left ear where my peacock feather grew from my skin. I've plucked it a million times since I was aware it wasn’t really a part of me. It always grows back. "Besides, you two made me. Don't you like what you made?" 

"I’m bored with this conversation," Mom said. "We've heard it before."

"What your Mother is trying to say is, of course we love what you look like. You're beautiful. But, you must understand that certain things are expected of certain households."

"Who says?" Wesley placed a plate of steaming quail eggs, goat cheese, and cut red beats in front of me. "Thank you," I said. He didn’t reply. They weren’t supposed to. In fact, some of the certain households dad was talking about had given their servants "gifts" of anamalia, ones that made them silent. 

Wesley had accepted gifts from my parents. He really couldn’t refuse, he’d be terminated. He had one monkey hand, to better open cans with. He had one owl’s eye so he could see at night when he had to clean up after one of my parent’s crazy parties. And, he had fur around his neck to keep him warm when he worked outside on the house in the rain. Small gifts, but very expensive. And, every certain household must have the proper help, properly animaled. 

"You are incredible. Your Father and I give you the most expensive gift one could give, and you throw it away. We are done with your anarchy. Either you get your next animalia, or you leave."

"Dad?" I look to him for some reassurance, but he won't look at me. "That's not fair!" I yell, spitting eggs across the table.

"Fair! You want to talk fair?" Mom plucks another feather. She'll regret that one because it lopsides her head. "Is it fair that all my friend's daughters have wings, or snake skin, or poisonous stingers? Is that fair?"

"That's why you're mad? That I don't look like your friend’s freaky daughters?" I push my plate away. I can't eat anymore.

"Name calling is not necessary," Dad says, still not looking my way.

"Kicking me out is?"

"We are not kicking you out. You have a choice to stay."

"That you're making for me…again."

"Payton, we are trying to help you. Do you know what people say? They think there's something wrong with you."

"And, what do you say back, Mother?"

Mom’s feathers stand up higher on her head, like a crown of bright green and blue feathers. 

"That’s what I thought, nothing." Storming out of the kitchen, tears streak my face, but I don’t wipe them. I won’t let them see me cry. Never again. 






2nd First Chapter:

Monstered

Mom's voice comes over the speaker. "Payton! We are waiting.” 

I'm late, as always, and she's annoyed, as always. So I don't answer her, as always. It would take me five minutes to walk out of my walk-in closet, and through my bedroom, past my private living room, to the intercom anyway. I throw on my black skinny's, she hates black. Of course, I'm the only Whitworth to be born with sable hair, not blond, in five generations. It's like I was born to irk her. Adding a black t-shirt I know she'll despise even more because it has a worn out photo of Granddad's favorite rock band, Van Halen, on it, I mosey out of the overly huge wardrobe. 

I'm not in a super hurry because I know what they want to talk about, animalia. It will go something like this.

"Payton, darling, you have to have animal parts graft to your entire body so you can get into a good institution."
"No I don't, Mom."
"You will choose shark skin, that way you can start winning swim meets again, and make us proud parents again."
"I'm not doing it."
"The surgeon will be here in fifteen minutes."
"Then I will stab my eyeball with this dull butter knife."

  It's not enough that I already have leopard spots on my neck, a gift from her for my 10th birthday, and two peacock feathers growing from behind my ears, for my 11th. And even though the bright turquoise plumes do bring out the blue and green of my eyes, and yes, the leopard spots, the dark reddish undertone of my hated-by-her black hair, it's enough animalia for me. I like my human body. I'm one of the last in my whole town. I still have most of my flesh and bones. 

My friends don't get it either. I mean if you can run like a cheetah or fly like an eagle, why wouldn't you? The only ones who don't have animalia are the poor. I'm sure some of my friends think I can't afford the upgrades. If they only knew what I recently turned down, they'd die of envy. Can you guess? My own plastic surgeon for my seventeenth. Sweet huh?

Mom hired me my very own doctor with tiny sharp scalpels, to cut into my flesh, beast me up before I can even vote. He's from Sibyl, the birthplace of animalia transplantia. He offered every animal part you could imagine, and some new ones he'd been creating. Outsiders would say he's playing God. But God's been outdone around here a long time ago.

I sat there staring at all the available animal parts, imagining what my Mom would prefer as a daughter. Maybe black-tipped shark skin, with poisonous snake fangs, and claws from a bald-headed eagle, lips from a spider monkey, and wings from a vampire bat. Would she be proud then? Would she show me off, like all her friends do to their daughters? Prancing them up and down the sidewalks like show ponies? And what about Dad? What would make him proud? When he looks at me does he wish for more leopard or maybe iguana skin like Mom's? What do they say about me while they're lying bed? Do they even talk about me at all? 

My choices were endless, all animals from A to Z. Gazelle legs means higher jumping. Panther eyes to interpret fast movements. Hawk eyes, like my Mom's, to let you see forever. Owl wings, you'd have to use at least 6 owls, but silent flying is very in right now. Snake skin keeps the sun from ever giving you cancer, and you can swim faster too. Of course shark skin and fins are the ones most swimmers choose for speed. The surgeon had his favorite mix as well. One he'd recently invented, lion mane and ostrich feathers, purely for show. It looked like a warm fur coat, but once attached to your skin the feathers and mane would intertwine creating a whole new animal skin. It was beautiful, but I said no. I said no to all of them. Mom is furious with me. 

She wants me to be like her, act like her, live like her. But I've always felt different. I never quite fit in, even with my own family. I don't get their jokes. I'm quiet, they like to talk, and mostly about themselves. I don't care about what I look like either. Mom wins awards every year for beauty and style. I don't want to sit through hours of nail appointments, massages, hair dying, scale oiling, and talon buffing. I'd rather be outside, watching nature, not wearing it. I can't even remember what Mom or Dad looked like before they turned animalia. 

I see Mom eyeing her friend's daughters too. I know what she's thinking. She wishes I'd yip and yap over the newest skins to hit the surgeons websites. She wishes I'd wear heels, skirts, put my hair up in pretty braids, or kink it, and add pink or purple rain forest bird feathers. I wonder how deep her wishes go. Would she trade me in? That's not a bad idea. Maybe we'd both find someone more suitable as parent and child. I could start a trading agency for cases like ours, where the kid obviously must have been switched at birth. 

I flip-flop into the kitchen, making sure every step smacks the white marble floor with force. They sit outside on the veranda overlooking the perfectly manicured 18-hole professional golf course with other 30,000 square foot mansions lining the holes. 

"Look at her," Mom says, but Dad keeps his head down. "Payton, darling, you look so common, so dark. Why won't you let us do this for you?"

I glance at Jimmy, standing in his white uniform at the white marble island, and smirk. If Mom knew I called him Jimmy, instead of James, I'd have to go through manner school all over again. I count to five. I know he can feel my eyes on him. But he doesn't look at me either. Instead he carefully removes shells from five small hard boiled eggs. 

"You can't expect the top Institutions to accept you as is," Dad says, while his monkey tail grabs the coffee and pours. 

"He's right, honey. Competition is fierce." Mom's large, brown hawk's eyes bore into me. She can see everything, and never misses a move. Her hair is mostly blue feathers from peacock. I tug at mine, that's where they came from, so long ago. She had her surgeon remove two from her, not from a new bird. She thought it would make us closer. It hasn't. Her reptilian skin, bright greens and blues, match them perfectly. My boring beige does not. 

The only parts on her body that aren't animalia, that are still like me, are her ears. But she's ordering those special. She wants elephant hearing, but small and cute, and blue. They will take a few years to mold, test, and implant. Until then, she hides her human ones with her feathers. But she makes sure everyone knows she's placed an order.

An order is a big deal. It means you have money, but not just money. You have money to play with, to enjoy, to mold yourself into the monster of your choosing. But I don't fit into their mold. I break my stare off with her, and sit, staring at my empty white plate. She wants me to be a monster too. If she knew that I even thought that word, monster, I'd be grounded for a year. The rebels coined it. I think it fits. Everyone who has animaled looks like monsters to me. But I'm the one who stands out around here. It's killing my parents that I don't care.

Dad sips his coffee in the way that says he's waiting for me to speak. What can I say? That you monstered me when I was a kid. I had no choice. That I think it's sick what you're doing. Do you even know what they do to the animals to get your fun new parts? That I wish we were poor and looked normal. That I'd pay a doctor to remove my animalia as if one ever would. And I don't care about your stupid institutions. And the biggest secret of all, I've joined the movement. No, I can never say that. They'd throw me in therapy forever.

Dad's tail flicks, continuously plucking fuzz from his jacket, combing his hair, and fixing his collar while he stares into his coffee. His hands are gorilla, big and thick, able to open any jar or rip through a tree. Overkill if you ask me, but that's what most men did. They made themselves bigger, bulkier, furrier. I don't even want to know what he did below the belt, but I know his pants went up five sizes. Mom's been way too eager to go to bed since the operation. 

I check his feet. Of course he's wearing socks and shoes. He never goes barefoot because that's his last human place, his last pieces of flesh. But he's put in an order too. He chose hoof. But not just any horse will do. He wants it mixed with metal. That's the newest of the new, to mix animal with gold or silver. And, from what I hear, it's the most painful to the animal. The only thing that makes me happy about it is it's just as painful for the human. Not that Dad will mind. It'll be one more thing he can brag to the other guys about, how he managed the pain with Demerol and drink. Dad ordered hoof with platinum, which will make him taller, unstoppable if he ever needs to break down a castle or two. Which, he never will. Say it with me, overkill. 

"If that's all they care about, how much animal I have tacked on me, I'll pass on them before they even growl," I finally say.

Dad sips his coffee. 

"Seriously, if I can't get into an institution with my scores, it's a stupid institution." I tap my chipped, black nails on the table, waiting for my breakfast to be brought to me along with the morning social news.

Mom plucks a feather. She does that when she's agitated. 

"What?" I ask her. 

She flicks the blue and green feather onto the floor. I guess she figures the servant will get that after he's made my eggs and toast. When I rise to get it, Dad's tail shoves me back into my seat. 

"That's fair," I say. 

"We will have this talk," he says. 

"Why can't I stay this way? I like it." I scratch behind my left ear where my peacock feather grows out from my skin. I've plucked it a million times since I was aware it wasn't really me. It always grows back. "Besides, you two made me. Don't you like what you made?" 

"I'm bored with this conversation," Mom says. "We've heard it before."

Dad clears his throat. "What your Mom is trying to say is, of course we love what you look like. You're beautiful. You must understand that certain things are expected of certain households."

"Who says?" 

Jimmy places a plate of tiny quail eggs, goat cheese, and cut red beets in front of me. 

"Thank you," I say. 

He doesn't reply. He's not supposed to. Some of Dad’s "certain" households have given their servants "gifts" of anamalia, ones that made them silent. 

Jimmy accepted gifts from my parents, if he’d refused he’d would have been terminated. He has one chimp hand, to better open cans with. He has cat eyes so he can see at night when he has to clean up after one of my parent's posh parties. And he has otter fur around his neck and down his back to keep him warm when he works outside in the rain. Small gifts but very expensive. Yes every certain household must have the proper help, properly animaled. 

"You are incredible," Mom says. "Your Dad and I give you the most expensive surgeon one could give, and you turn him away. Grow up. Either you get your next animalia, or you leave." 

"Dad?" I've heard this threat before from her, but something about her face makes it seem more real. I wait for some reassurance, but he won't look at me. "That's not fair!" I yell.

"Fair! You want to talk fair?" Mom plucks another feather. She'll regret that one because it makes her head look lopsided. "Is it fair that all my friend's daughters have wings or snake skin or poisonous stingers? Is that fair?"

"That's why you're mad? That I don't look like your friend's freaky daughters?" I push my half eaten plate away.

"Name calling is not necessary," Dad says, still afraid to look up.

"Kicking me out is?" I stand up, readying for his tail to shove me back down. But it doesn't come this time. 

"You have the choice to stay."

"No, it's your choice. You're making it for me. Again."

"Payton, we’re trying to help you. Do you know what people say? They think there's something wrong with you."

"And what do you say back, Mom?"

Mom shivers. Her feathers rise from her head, a crown of bright green and blue. 

"Nothing. That's what I thought."

"Enough!" Dad's gorilla fist snaps the handle off his white coffee cup like a child breaking a popsicle stick. I can't believe he's siding with her.

"She's being a bitch, and you don't even care."

His tail whips out, grabbing the back of my neck like a claw. "If you ever disrespect your Mother like that again, I'll throw you out myself." His tail shoves me away.

My hands go to my neck, and then I'm crying. I run out of there, past Jimmy, who moves toward me, but I don't stop. Leaping up the marble stairs three at a time, I slam my door. I hold my breath, listening for Dad's heavy footsteps following me. None come. 

There's a bruise on my neck already. I don't care what he does. I don't care what she thinks. I'm not animaliaing myself anymore freak than she's already made me. I will leave. What will she tell her friends then? She'll probably make something up about me going off to explore Europe. She's such a good liar. Dad always says so.




So? Which one draws you in more? Which one gives you more of a sense of who Payton is? Do you like Payton? Do you feel for her? Do you understand her? Does she remind you of your arguments with your parents? 

Advice: Go back and rewrite your first chapter. Don't take a break. Don't go celebrate just yet. Of course, pour yourself that glass of wine, eat that piece of chocolate, or go for a quick run...but come back inside -- BUTT in chair -- and give us your main character in all his/her rawness. 

Good luck!



Write~on
Angie

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